After a long flight, followed by a brief 20 hours in Los Angeles where I shared a couple of meals with a few dear friends (it was great seeing you!), followed by another long flight, finally I arrived at my first stop of trip: Chile.Â In LA, I picked up my Dad, step-brother Allen, and step-mother Leticia, who would be joining me for the first week in Chile as it was Thanksgiving vacation back in the States.
You’ll notice that the first week was characterized by a lot of driving, hence the use of ‘blur’ in the title.Â I guess my dad likes to drive.
The first two days in Chile we spent out on the Pacific coast enjoying the great view of the ocean and driving through the picturesque coastal towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.Â One of the best meals I had the first week was the very first lunch which came after a lot of lost driving around the hillside town of Valparaiso.Â At Cafe Turri we were blessed with gorgeous views of the ocean and the coastal towns.Â We were also introduced to the native drink, Pisco sour, an aperitif similar to a margarita but with more bite at the end, and to the staples of Chilean cuisine: lots of bread, usually served with salsa or butter, beef, seafood, avocados, and to a lesser extent, potatoes (fried, roasted, you name it), cheese, and cooked veggies served cold.Â While the meat, bread, and potatoes were a welcome change from Chinese food, this combination became a bit repetitive and therefore I will probably always equate my first meal at Cafe Turri as the best in that first week.
When we parked in Valparaiso for lunch, we had to tip the guy who moved his car so we could park.Â Then when we left lunch we had to tip the guy who was guarding the cars in the parking area.Â Even as an American where tipping is common, this seemed a bit bizarre.Â I soon came to learn that Chile is a country whose people are basically dependent on tipping.Â You tip the housekeeper, both at the hotel and the one at your apartment; you tip the parking attendant, the breakfast table busser (most hotels include breakfast), the vineyard tour guide, the guy who fills your tank at the gas station (always full service), the waiter, and the bagger at the supermarket; you tip just about everyone who does something for you except the taxi driver.Â Go figure.
Upon leaving the coast we drove four hours east and then south (2.5 hours drive south of Santiago) to the Colchagua valley, one of the main wine producing areas within Chile.Â Some of Chile’s finest and most expensive wines come from wineries in the region.Â We toured four wineries over two days starting with the lowest standard and increasing in quality and price of wine with each successive tour; each tour was approximately 1.5hours including wine tasting, which was usually a sampling of 3 wines.Â An interesting note on wine production in Chile: Chile has a very unique grape called the Carmenere, which went extinct in France some years ago.Â The Chileans were attempting to produce Merlot with the Carmenere grape but because they were unfamiliar with the grape they were harvesting it at the wrong time and were producing poor wine.Â Then a Frenchman who was touring vineyards in Chile discovered the Carmenere in Chile.
The first day we had a late afternoon visit to Casa Silva which Silva which only in the last 15years has switched from producing bulk wines sold to other wineries for bottling to producing their own label of wines.Â The next day we went to Viu Manent where we had a nice lunch and were driven in a horse pulled buggy for the tour.Â But perhaps the highlight of the tour was tasting the red wine directly from the steel barrel during its fermentation process.Â Let me just say I prefer red wine after its a little far along in the production process.Â Later that afternoon weÂ went to Montes, known by the angel on its bottle and famous for its premium wines including Purple Angel and Montes Folly.Â An interesting characteristic of the Montes winery is that its finest and most expensive wines come from grapes that are grown on a steep hillside.Â Grapes vines grown on a hillside have to work harder to push the roots down to fine adequate water and nutrients, in doing so they become slightly stressed which causes the plants to grow stronger and grow grapes that are capable of producing finer, more complex wines.Â The next morning we went to Casa Lapostolle , famous for the brand Clos Apalta.Â This winer has one of the newest and most expensive facilities for producing wine in Chile.Â The building is 6 stories therefore when moving the wine from one stage of the process to the next everything is done using gravity, as opposed to pumping which is said to damage the wine:Â At the conclusion of that tour, we headed back north to Santiago.
Saturday night found us less two people who had to get back to the States by the start of the work week and with an invitation for the remaining two to a going-away party in Santiago.Â So we put on our best, though later realized we were rather overdressed and headed out to a live music venue which doubled as restaurant and dance hall.Â (Apparently Latin time (ie flexible time where everyone is at least 15-20minutes late) doesn’t hold true when attending a foreigner’s party.)Â A night out with Santiaguenos (and some expats) was fun as they get into the music and can really dance!Â I got to dance to my favorite salsa song, La Vida es un Carnaval.Â I decided bars and restaurants are the only thing open on weekends in Chile and even those are frequently closed on Sunday night.Â This was frustrating as I wanted to run a few errands in Santiago, such as buying a book on Buenos Aires, but alas, everything is closed!
Perhaps because everything is closed on weekends, many Santiaguenos head out-of-town, sometimes east toward the Andes, which is what we did Sunday morning.Â By Sunday noon time we’d checked into a ranch called Cascada de las Animas in the Maipo valley and were getting ready to go rafting down the Maipo River.Â After a safety talk entirely en espanol (ohhh, Spanish, don’t fail me now), we were outfitted in full wet-suits, splash jackets, booties, life jackets, helmets, and provided with paddles.Â Oh dear, I knew the water was going to be cold when they started handing out the wetsuits; in fact, the water is mostly glacier melt, which makes the river swell to become Class IV rapids during the summer.Â At times floating, at time paddling furiously, at times be pounded down the river, rafting was great fun, with the cactus-studded canyon extending up on both sides.Â Dad sat in the front and had the luck to be drenched numerous times by the icy cold water.Â I, on the other hand, had the smarts to sit in the back and get splashed only up to my waist and down my left arm.Â The one-hour trip down the river was probably for me the highlight of the week in Santiago-area Chile.Â The following day we had a 2 hour horseback ride in which Dad and I had a bit of a canter on the horses to see who’d get to lead.Â Unfortunately, Dad got to keep his lead.Â The ride took us up to a mesa where we had great all around views of the snow-tipped Andes.Â Those mountains were stunning with the snow on them, but I hardly realized how little snow it actually was compared to, say, mountains in the Patagonia region of Chile.
Another driver took us back through Santiago to buy my book, the store was finally open on Monday and then on to the final winery with Dad: Concha y Torro.Â CyT is probably the most well-known Chilean winery and also the most accessible from Santiago-just ride the metro south.Â Concha y Torro’s most premium wine, and one that some consider to be the best to come out of Chile, Almaviva is actually partnership with the French winery Barron de Rothschild.Â After sampling the Almaviva at CyT wine bar (it was really good), we drove back to our rather rustic cabin on the ranch, had our final dinner together, and prepared to part ways the following morning.Â A surprisingly quick 1 hour drive Tuesday morning found me back at the airport ready to meet my mother and fly south to Patagonia…